I was horrified and amused, and was thinking fondly of our own wedding, when I suddenly realized that it was October 9, our thirteenth anniversary. (To be honest, I did have to look inside my wedding ring, where the date is inscribed, to be certain. I can never remember whether it’s the 8th or the 9th)
Our wedding was a modest, do-it-yourself affair. We rented the Boltin Center, a city-owned community center. When I booked it, the only hitch was that they were planning to paint and refurbish it, and hadn’t scheduled the work yet. What would we do if we made all our plans only to lose our location?
It is the only time I have ever engaged in municipal corruption. A close friend was high in city government. He assured me that he would see to it that the painting happened after the wedding. If we had asked him to expedite the work, that might have posed a problem, but delaying it wouldn’t trouble Buildings and Grounds at all.
When we made our guest list, I was struck by the size of Joe’s family. His list was huge: his daughter, four parents, three brothers and a sister-in-law, nephews, and dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins. Both my parents and all but two of my aunts and uncles were dead; I was unconnected to my cousins. I did have my son, my two brothers and their wives, my sister, and the seven nieces and nephews. It made me sad, and also made me fear being swallowed up by The Jacksons.
Planning the food was not too hard, though it was our biggest expense. A friend was a caterer, and she prepared a lovely lunch buffet of salmon, an elaborate rice pilaf, and a green salad. We served no liquor, as Joe didn’t drink, we saw no need for it, and we are both cheapskates.
Our wedding cake was the best I have ever had. Joe’s cousin Stephanie had her own cake business. She made us a three-tiered yellow cake with French raspberry buttercream, made with butter and eggs, not the nasty grocery store stuff. We topped it with my sister Luli’s Sculpy figures of Joe and me dancing together. She swears they are anatomically correct, but the clothes are sewed on so we couldn’t check.
Stephanie brought the cake layers and the frozen frosting down from Boston on the plane. The night before the wedding she and Joe’s brother Adam carefully thawed the buttercream with her hair dryer, and she assembled and decorated the cake.
I had no desire, at 51, to be married in white, looking like a big fluffy marshmallow. Instead I wanted a pretty red party dress with a swirly skirt. I looked through pattern books until I found just the one, with a fitted bodice, scoop neckline, and full gathered skirt. I had a hard time finding the fabric at JoAnn’s, but the Christmas prints were in, and I found a bright red gingham with tiny darker red pointsettia leaves.
My friend Nancy offered to make it, and I spent the night at her house in Orlando. When it was basted together and I tried it on, I couldn’t breathe. “I never knew you had such big boobs,” Nancy said. We fixed it by opening the bodice and making a triangular insert, with ornamental buttons down each side. I had planned to wear dressy flats with my party dress. But two days before the wedding I broke my toe, so I was stuck with white adhesive tape and sandals.
There were two bridesmaids - Joe's daughter Leah, 13, and my daughter Rebecca, 17. It never occurred to me that they should wear matching dresses or coordinated colors. Rebecca and I went shopping. I steered her away as best I could from the teen trollop look, and we bought a lovely black knit minidress with red and white trim.
Leah’s mother took her shopping. I believe she bought a cream and mauve floor-length dress; however, I never saw it. On our wedding morning, Naomi, Joe’s mother, called and asked if there was a Target in Gainesville. Leah had left her dress in Tampa. I didn’t envy Naomi. Leah was at the self-loathing stage, and shopping with her could not have been fun. But they succeeded, and bought a black dress with blue flowers.
I look at the pictures now and laugh. Rebecca’s dress barely covers the essentials. Leah is thoroughly swaddled. And I am gloriously decked out in my silver hair and the perfect party dress I dreamed of when I was twelve. I had no idea till I saw the pictures that my concept of pretty hadn’t changed since 1959.
A few days before the wedding Joe and I had the requisite prenuptial quarrel, when he told me he planned to go down to the Boltin Center the morning of the wedding to supervise the placement of the chairs. We were expecting about 100 guests, which made quite a tight fit. Joe had drawn a detailed diagram on graph paper for my friend Iris, who was in charge of setting up the room, but he felt he needed to be there to supervise. I had intended a quiet morning at home, just the two of us, to get in the mood for the wedding.
“I don’t need you to manage my mood.”
“Iris doesn’t need you interfering. We delegated this to her, and she’s very competent.”
“We just have different meanings of ‘delegate.’ To you it means just hand it over; to me it means you supervise the job.”
Now you just know I had to go look it up in our big fat dictionary to confirm that I was right. I hope and believe I didn’t race back to him with the definition. We fumed in separate rooms, and later Joe agreed to the quiet morning together.
The night before the wedding our friends Mary Anne and Larry had a family gathering for us in Mary Anne’s beautiful garden. My nephew Ben grilled burgers and dogs, and we hired a shucker to deal with two bushels of oysters. Mary Anne and my sister Luli made side dishes.
Luli was in heaven - I believe she ate three dozen oysters. Joe’s large family mingled with my small family, and there was food and love and happiness to spare.
Joe and I had our quiet morning together, interrupted only by Naomi’s call at 9, and then the doorbell at 10. His friend Jaleel had driven all night from D.C., and arrived to find it was too early to check into his motel, where he had hoped to take a nap before the wedding. We gave him fresh-squeezed orange juice and led him to the guest bedroom.
Joe, Leah, Rebecca and I drove to the hall and waited downstairs. And waited. Joe went to find out what was holding things up. It turned out Stephanie was rebuilding the cake, which was to be displayed in the back of the hall. The Florida heat had softened the frosting and the top two layers were sliding off. I don’t know how she did it, but she hid any repairs with fresh raspberries. Luli, who has been a food professional most of her life, was awed by Steph’s aplomb.
Finally Adam came to tell us everything was ready. The girls walked down the aisle, carrying flowers from a friend’s garden, followed by me and Joe. Patti, a dear friend who’s a notary, waited for us, and my oldest brother Don stood at the front playing the wedding march on his harmonica. I saw him, and our families in the front row, and friends from all over, and blubbered all the way down the aisle. I sniffle now as I think of it.
We exchanged slightly modified old-fashioned vows (losing ‘obey,’ adding ‘come what may’) and each read a poem, one solemn, one silly.
And then we were married, and the fun began. The band got everybody dancing by putting them in a circle and teaching them the cajun two step.
Everybody ate but me - I was too wrought up. We ran the gauntlet of blessings and soap bubbles, and went off for two happy days at the beach, accompanied by the top tier of the wedding cake.
I love going to the weddings of people I care about. I love the gathering of family and friends, and of course the dancing and eating. If it is over the top I share my catty thoughts only with sister Luli, who is intimately acquainted with the nastier aspects of my nature.
The point of a wedding is to make a public commitment, shared with and supported by the people you love. I prefer a wedding to be a celebration, not a spectacle. To each her own, but I’m sorry when I hear it conceived as an entertainment extravaganza starring the bride. It can be a lovely occasion, but it’s the least important part of the long adventure of marriage.